User Fee Programs May Offer Byways
In Utah, two fee demonstration
programs involve toll booths and drop tubes on byways on state
highways moving through federal lands. Collectively those
programs produced one million dollars ($400,000 and $600,000) in
fee revenue in one year. In one instance the Forest Service used
some of the funding for capital improvements on the byway
in addition to covering staff and vehicle and other agency costs.
Byway organizations could have access to user fee
funding generated in their areas as provided for by federal legislation.
Under federal legislation, fees charged to users of
such facilities as campgrounds, rental cabins, high-impact recreation
areas and day-use areas at participating sites are a way for those
who visit public lands to share in the cost of maintaining those
lands and the programs offered there for future use. This process
is often called user-generated cost recovery. The support of user
groups willing to pay a fee linked to byways as demonstrated by a
trial program would strengthen the case for a byway-related fee program.
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, created
in federal legislation under Section J of HR 4818, authorizes Recreational
Fee Programs for a ten-year period and allows qualified sites to
retain at least 80 percent of fees collected on-site to support site
improvements that will enhance the visitor experiences there. The
U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation,
National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are directed
in the legislation to establish agency-specific fee programs. The
provision also establishes a new national America the Beautiful Passport
and authorizes regional passes that may include entrance and parking
at sites operated by state, local and federal agencies not subject
to this legislation.
To ensure good public involvement in the fee program,
the Congress directed the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management
to establish a series of Recreation Resource Advisory Committees
with specific representation requirements. In general, the legislation
allows a two-tier fee program. The first tier involves sites and
units providing important but basic services and facilities. Entrance
and parking fees are generally in this category. Additional fees
can be levied for specific services such as cave tours and use of
facilities such as campsites.
The predecessor of the new Federal Lands Recreation
Enhancement Act was the National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program
that began in 1996 as a three-year pilot program. The new 10-year
fee authorization legislation, enacted in December 2004, provides
guidelines on where recreation fees can be charged and where they
cannot be charged.
American Recreation Coalition President Derrick Crandall,
speaking at the 1998 Congressional hearing called by the Subcommittee
on National Parks and Public Lands to discuss fee demonstration programs,
identified federal-non-federal collaboration and partnership opportunities
in support of the fee demonstration program. He said “… providing
high quality recreation in America will take a number of tools, including
encouragement of volunteer efforts, use of funding from ISTEA and
other kinds of Federal programs, partnerships with private sectors
as concessionaires and special permitees, partnerships with states
and local agencies in a wide variety of ways, corporate support through
sponsorships and work with non-profit organizations.”
In his presentation to Congress, Mr. Crandall identified
five criteria for establishing an effective fee demonstration program:
- fees need to be equitable
- the fee system needs to be efficient
- fees need to be convenient for the recreationist
- the fee system needs to be coherent, flexible and integrated
- the fee revenues need to be returned to benefit the resources,
facilities and programs utilized by those paying the bill.
Among the appropriate uses for fee revenues cited by
Mr. Crandall were the preservation of lookout towers in Western National
Forests and new interpretive services for families visiting National
Forests to cut their own Christmas trees.
In a 2002 report titled “Issues and Concerns
Related to the USDA Forest Service’s Recreational Fee Demonstration
Program,” the purpose for fee revenues is cited as: “Amounts
available for expenditure… may only be used for… backlogged
repair and maintenance projects (including projects relating to health
and safety) and for interpretation, signage, habitat or facility
enhancement, resource preservation, annual operation (including fee
collection), maintenance, and law enforcement relating to public
use (P.L. 104-134, 315(c)3).
Recreation fees are collected at sites at the time
of use or may be collected ahead in exchange for a season-long use
This type of funding applies to federal sites nationwide.
The program allows at least 80 percent of funds raised
on sites to be retained for site enhancement. A limit of 15 percent
(with some exceptions) of total fees may be used for administration,
overhead, and indirect costs of the fee program. In 2000, the Forest
Service issued a strategic plan identifying goals and objectives
relevant to its fee demonstration program and the resulting revenues
as a management tool. Attracting and expanding Forest Service partnerships
with non-Forest Service parties is identified on the agency’s
For information on how a fee demonstration program
works in Utah, click here.
The funding potential of a fee demonstration program
is inherently linked to use of the designated resource. Recreation
revenues under the new authority are estimated to be approximately
$200 million for Fiscal Year 2006, but could rise.
American Recreation Coalition
Thanks go to Derrick Crandall, President
of the American Recreation Coalition, for assisting the development
of this case profile.